Taming the Troubling Tilapia

Taming the Troubling Tilapia

Another invasive species has found its way into Texas lakes and rivers and state officials have a request if you find one.

Don’t return it to the water. 

Tilapia have been found in the Lone Star State’s waterways and because of that, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is asking anyone out fishing that catches them, to not release them.

Their suggestion? Eat them.


Fishing remains an excellent way to social distance yourself from others, whether on the side of the Brazos River, on a dock on the reservoir or from a boat. As we all extend social distancing practices while COVID-19 spreads, be aware of new fishing situations on our water before you head out.

Like other non-native, invasive species, Tilapia can have a harmful effect on local fish colonies and damage the vegetation that keeps our underwater ecosystem alive and healthy. 

The state of Texas already has special requirements associated with the harvest of harmful or potentially harmful exotic species and transport of exotic aquatic species such as tilapia.  It is unlawful to possess or transport any exotic aquatic plant or animal listed as harmful or potentially harmful, according to the TPWD. It’s also unlawful to possess tilapia or any other fish listed as harmful or potentially harmful, without immediately removing the head or intestines.

Tilapia - the second most prolific species grown in aquaculture after carp - are also sometimes more commonly called Nile Tilapia, Nile perch, Redbelly Tilapia, freshwater snapper, mojara, ngege, or St. Peter’s fish, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Since tilapia are on the state’s prohibited species list, there’s no minimum size or bag limit for them, according to the TPWD. Remember, fishing licenses are required on Texas public waters.

Calaveras and Brauning Lakes in San Antonio are among the latest Texas’ waterways infested, according to a Feb. 28, 2020 Houston Chronicle article. Tilapia also are in the San Antonio River, San Marcos River and Comal River. Mitch Nisbet, the department's fisheries biologist, was quoted in the article saying tilapia were labeled as invasive because they have a detrimental impact on native fish, including catfish and largemouth bass. Nisbet said it’s unclear how the Tilapia got here.

Tiffany Malzahn, Brazos River Authority environmental and compliance manager, said tilapia have not yet been reported in any of the three reservoirs owned and operated by the BRA: Possum Kingdom Lake and lakes Granbury and Limestone. However, the invasive fish has been seen in the lower basin of the Brazos River near Oyster Creek. 


“Please don’t dump your fish tank in the river,” Malzahn said. “Some of those things can really take off, plants included.”
That means no flushing of aquarium fish either. 

Goldfish have been described as one of the world’s “worst invasive aquatic species,” according to research conducted by Murdoch University. The fish have been documented to grow to almost four pounds in the wild and feed on plants, insects, crustaceans and other fish to survive. The fish also kick up sediment and mud when they feed, which could damage the ecosystem.

Research also found that goldfish can travel 140 miles within a freshwater system in a year.

Tilapia are native only to Africa and are a hardy, fast-growing fish, that can live up to ten years and reach ten pounds in weight, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Wild tilapia can spawn throughout the year and females can produce up to 1,200 eggs per spawn.

Learn more about never dumping your aquarium here. Check with your local fisheries biologist on best places to catch tilapia and other species here. And go here to learn about the devices you can use to catch tilapia.